Audit finding mishandling of jail funds Investigation picks up where stalled probe left off in 1995

'Accountability problem'

Flaws uncovered in records of inmates' accounts

February 09, 1997|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

Twenty months after police dropped a theft investigation involving Anne Arundel County Detention Center employees, a routine audit has found evidence of an undetermined amount of missing money, sloppy bookkeeping and the same high-ranking corrections officers working in the same jobs.

County Auditor Teresa Sutherland began reviewing detention center books in June as part of a periodic check on departments that handle cash transactions. The audit was to cover July 1995 to June, but it was expanded to include the last half of last year.

Administration and law enforcement sources say auditors are trying to determine whether cash deposited by inmates for use in the jail commissary reached the county's bank account. If not, county taxpayers have been helping pay for inmate snacks, toothpaste, underwear and other staples for the past 20 months -- and possibly longer.

The sources say the auditor's staff has reviewed about four months worth of cash receipts and bank deposits in a time-consuming process similar to balancing a checkbook.

They have discovered that deposit slips for more than $10,000 are missing, which may mean the money never reached the county's NationsBank account. The figure could grow as the audit advances, or paperwork could appear that explains what now appears to be missing money.

A fight over who should handle a criminal investigation has erupted among the auditor's office, the state's attorney's office and County Executive John G. Gary. Gary, a Republican, was taken by surprise last year by a grand jury indictment of two county employees allegedly involved in a $5 million bribery scheme at the Millersville landfill. The case is pending in court.

Gary wants to keep a closer watch over the jail audit. He has instructed the county police chief he picked last month to begin a new investigation to coincide with the auditor's review.

Police Chief Larry W. Tolliver said he has assigned Detectives Hank Snow and Eric W. Sporre of the internal affairs division to the case.

"That was at the direction of Mr. Gary," Tolliver said. "He wanted me to pick someone who is very good at his job."

The move has angered the auditor's staff, which reports to the County Council, not to Gary. Two weeks ago, Gary met with Sutherland, Council Chairwoman Diane R. Evans and Vice Chairman Bert L. Rice to discuss ground rules for the audit but did not reveal his police probe.

"We still have a case of missing receipts and an accountability problem," said Rice, an Odenton Republican. "We're going to get the audit done. Then we'll see if there needs to be an investigation."

The audit is not the first review of the jail fund. In June 1995, police investigated three high-ranking sergeants and a commissary worker at the detention center over missing deposit slips and cash.

Police incident reports reveal that the inquiry conducted in May and June 1995 ended abruptly before planned lie detector tests were administered to those being investigated.

The reports provide no explanation for why the investigation, conducted by Detective Brian Hassett of the Southern District, was cut short. They were not forwarded to council members or the state's attorney's office, which decides whether evidence warrants criminal charges.

"I don't understand why it wasn't pursued," said Evans, an Arnold Republican. "The council was not advised. I would like to have been."

All of the corrections workers who were investigated still work at the jail on Jennifer Road outside Annapolis. None was disciplined or moved from his position.

"There was not enough information to go forward," said Lisa Ritter, Gary's spokeswoman. "Because there was no proof of wrongdoing, there could be no employee action."

The process works like this:

tTC A new inmate gives his money to the corrections officer on duty. The cash is placed in an envelope, and the amount is written on the outside. The inmate and the officer sign the envelope.

The envelope is placed in a safe, accessible to duty sergeants, until it is transferred to the commissary staff. The money might stay in the safe overnight or as long as a weekend. The commissary staff receives the envelope and sets up an inmate account, and the inmate draws down the balance to pay for essentials sold at the store.

Finally, the commissary staff fills out deposit slips for the cash, which is put into county bank accounts to reimburse the store for the items sold. If an inmate is released with cash in his account, a check is written to him for the balance.

The audit is aimed at reconciling the deposit slips with the cash receipt books that corrections officers kept. So far, they don't match -- including for a time after the abrupt halt in the 1995 investigation.

On Jan. 17, the jail's deputy superintendent, George Braxton, called Sutherland to tell her that the audit would be conducted internally and that the files would remain at the jail.

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